by David Sisler

In the before-times when I was a magazine editor, Joyce was my last secretary. She had the most important trait a secretary can possess — loyalty. Her loyalty was enhanced by a certain gullibility. When I went out the back door one afternoon to play golf with a friend, I told her I was going to check on some real estate. She dutifully passed that along to the editor in chief when he inquired as to my whereabouts. I thought about telling her another time that I was going to the bank, but since I do not fish, that would have been an outright lie. I did tell her to hold all of my calls one day because I was going to "lay before the Lord." I stretched out on the couch in my office and took a nap.

What I remember the most, 23 years later, are the incredible stories she told about her grandmother. Granny Smith (honest) may have been the model for Li'l Abner's Mammy Yokum. She was a country woman with a fifth grade education and the practical insight of a Ph.D.

Two people at our work were prolonging a feud. Who said what no longer mattered. In fact, the facts no longer mattered. The feud had taken on a life of its own. After one particularly annoying episode of "I said — you said" Joyce remarked, "Well, my Granny always said, ‘The more you stir a manure pile the worse it smells!'"

Christians did not invent stirring that "pot," but we have our own perfected techniques. We know with certainty that a bad smell will arise if we continue to stir, and we find the odor repugnant, but we will not let go of the stick.

Consider one particularly noxious stench.

A church struggles for years to become spiritually productive. Then under the most unlikely of circumstances, it happens. Lives are changed. Ministry grows. The community notices. What had seemed a hopeless situation becomes saturated with hope.

There are little problems along the way, to be sure, but they are only such things as happen when change uproots long-seated habits. "We never did it that way before," was the funeral dirge of the church, but gradually a new song is caroled.

Occasionally toes are stepped on. Occasionally those who have held the reins of power find that the whole enterprise gallops ahead while they try to dig in their heels. Small kingdoms, the domains of small people, tumble (as they should) and the work grows.

Mistakes are made, to be sure, but wise leadership recognizes where feelings have been hurt, where wounds have been thoughtlessly inflicted, and moves are made quickly "to bind up the broken hearted and to set at liberty those who are bruised." Growing Christians recognize human fallibility and graciously accept apologies. The church continues to grow.

But then it happens. The Enemy gets a toe-hold. Kingdoms that were once built for the glory of Almighty God are now remodeled as memorials to impotent men — and clergy and laity alike are guilty. People who were once content to serve, now swell up when their service is unnoticed. Accusations become whirlpools which drag in all who come too close. Letters to the "faithful" about the "unfaithful" swirl like straw driven before a hurricane. Unreasonableness is substituted for reason, and the collapse of the once prosperous church is as sure as tomorrow's sunrise.

But the worst is not yet. One side must justify itself against the opposing side. Those who have not yet heard must be told. We do it in the name of protecting the Kingdom, but the Kingdom has its own Defender, and he must certainly blush when we hide all manner of hateful behavior behind his name.

The hurt in the wounded hearts is as real as if the human flesh had been actually pierced. Attempting to gain healing, we keep tearing the scabs off. We tell the story over and over and every time we do, the wounds fester and will not heal. We become obnoxiously pious and we justify ourselves beyond the point where we allow God's justification to reach us. Our rightness builds a wall where God's righteousness cannot penetrate.

And still we tell the story. It is not the old, old story of Jesus and his love. It is the almost as old story of human sin, stirred with the stick of anger or jealousy or just plain hurt. But like Granny Smith said, the more we stir it the worse it smells. The air will only freshen and remain fresh at Calvary. We cannot, however, cling to the Old Rugged Cross as long as we keep the stirring stick in our hands.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 9/18/99

Copyright 1999 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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